south

Reimagining the Bible Belt

IF YOU'RE A Christian who cares about social justice, you can’t afford to ignore Texas.

In his book Rough Country, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow puts it bluntly: “Texas is America’s most powerful Bible-Belt state.” Texas has the second largest population in the country, home to more than 26 million people. In 2014, Texans led six out of 21 congressional committees. And more than half of Texans attend church at least twice monthly.

No other state has more evangelical Christians than Texas. Many national Christian media companies, parachurch ministries, and influential megachurches are based in Texas. That’s why Texas is called the Buckle of the Bible Belt: It’s the most populous, wealthy, and politically powerful part of the country where evangelical churchgoing is still a dominant force.

But what if we reimagine the Bible Belt? In 2005, Texas officially became a “majority-minority” state, where traditional minority racial or ethnic groups represent more than half of the population. A majority of Texans under 40 in the pews are people of color. This creates an opportunity: Demographic change could lead to cultural change. What if we cast a new vision for faith in Texas public life that puts working families and people of color at the center?

But demographic change will not translate automatically into cultural change. The dominant historical Bible Belt narrative has influenced and shaped the identities of all Texas Christians, including in the African-American and Latino faith communities.

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July 2015
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Sweet Soul Paradox

FAME studio mic

ON THE 2001 album Southern Rock Opera, over a thumping four-by-four beat and three roaring guitars, Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood sang a song about “the duality of the Southern thing,” which he identified as equal parts “glory” and “shame.”

That pretty much sums up the paradox of a place like Hood’s native Alabama, where they celebrate the birthdays of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day. But up in the northwest corner of Alabama there stands a monument to the South’s unalloyed glory—the FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals.

Beginning in the late 1950s, when segregation was still the law throughout the former Confederacy, at FAME black and white Southerners worked as partners, side by side, to make the sweet soul music that would help change the world. Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1,000 Dances” and “Mustang Sally”—they were all recorded in Muscle Shoals within a two-year period in the mid-1960s.

And most of the musicians on all those deeply funky recordings were white Alabamans. The bass player, David Hood, was the father of the Truckers’ Patterson Hood.

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Voting Rights Act Challenge: The Fight Continues

Richard Ellis/Getty Images

President of the South Carolina NAACP speaks at a rally in support of the Voting Rights Act. Richard Ellis/Getty Images

I was on the airplane, looking forward to reading Taylor Branch’s new book, The King Years: Historical Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. As I opened my Kindle, I realized that it offered large excerpts of Branch’s previous works, and was glad that while I have the other books in hard cover, I had these stories in my Kindle. But as I re-read some of the accounts, I realized that my 40-something-old self reacted differently than when I first read some of the accounts when I was 20-something. My younger self yearned to know: How did they organize? How did they deal with differing motives and different movements? And I yearned to believe that I, too, would have sacrificed my being for “The Movement.”

My late 40-something-old self read these words as a mother — as someone who understood the fury of the parents who were scared as their children sacrificed their very lives for justice’s sake.

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